Nine Inch Nails
Itís the day after the final night of Nine Inch Nailsí six week
European tour, and there are some shabby figures milling around
the lobby of the deeply hip blonde wood and cream leather
appointed Metropolitan Hotel (incorporating the renowned celeb
haunt, the Met Bar) in central London. Interviews are running two
hours late. But, weíre here to see Trent Reznor, a man who spent
two years working sixteen hour days to create his magnificent
double album opus The Fragile, a man who gave the world Marilyn
Manson and then lived to regret it and who Courtney Love
charmingly refers to as "a farmboy staring into the abyss".
After The Downward Spiral epic tour, Reznor dived into producing Mansonís
Antichrist Superstar and the soundtrack to David Lynchís Lost Highway
(including the stunning track "The Perfect Drug"). Then there was a year
looking around going, what the hell happened? Reznor subsequently spent
two years of sixteen hour days toiling in Nothing studios in New Orleans
with co-producer, engineer and mixer Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins,
My Bloody Valentine) creating the twenty-three song sonic and emotional
journey through decay, loss and survival of The Fragile.
Eventually Reznor is presented, pale and bed-dishevelled, shaking hands
with an almost feminine gentleness and reeking feintly of last nightís
drinking. Fragility is clearly a state of mind with which he is
acquainted. His voice is a cracked, thick tongue whisper. Actual speech
appears to be a painful activity. His responses are disarmingly sincere.
ask him about sacrifice, because he seems like the kind of guy for whom
the old adage suffering for oneís art is perfect. "I guess I realise the
things I have to say that matter are things that require a degree of
sacrifice," he explains in a slow, deliberate murmur. "I sometimes feel
naked because I think Iíve given up too much of myself that Iím not sure
that I wanted to give up. But the decision to give it up was one based on
the fact that it made the music and the art better to do it."
What is it with these loner artists who feel like theyíve got something
prove over and over again? I feel like his mother when I ask if he took a
break after recording?
"No, I started rehearsing. I should have, but I didnít," he says almost
apologetically. And then the band went straight into touring. The
is something Reznor accepts as part of the responsibility he feels as an
artist. "Thereís always so much to do."
Why? Why is there so much to do? He takes a deep breath. "What it is is,
I made a record I believe in, and people wonít get it unless I explain it
Ďem, and if it means I have to tour for a year to show you, I believe in
enough to do it. I hoped I wouldnít be in this situation but I think that
sucks right now, I think most bands out right now are terrible. I can
about it or make music that is better. But if I do that then I have to
bend everybodyís ears to acknowledge that. Itís a hard path," he admits,
little ruefully, "and would I rather be at home with my dog and my
New Orleans? Yes, but I believe in the record I put out enough to give
up and hopefully persuade people to pay attention to what Iím doing. It
be stupid, butÖ"
Last nightís gig at Brixton Academy was the second of two sold out shows.
You can imagine the crowd Ė black clad, pancake faces in big boots and
nose rings. Reznor is not so much a lightening rod for the energy
as a desperate void, sucking in all the emotion and rage, working himself
into a hoarse frenzy of mania and self obsession. Self indulgence
plays a part, as does humourlessness. The band play with heads down, a
force unto themselves, illuminated in drenched storms of moody blue and
purple colour, interspersed with stark, epileptic-inducing strobe
five very gothic, pronged industrial chandeliers that look like junkyard
bric-a-brac sculptures. Relying on electro-keyboard sounds and distorted
detuned guitars, with Reznor occasionally standing alone playing haunting
piano-keyboard codas, the show moves through the more aggressive rock
styles and into the atmospheric ambience of The Fragile. A massive screen
comes down halfway through the set, separating the band from the crowd,
projecting black and white images of the sea, roaming creatures and
swirling internal organs and cells. There is much interplay between dark
and light textures and violent musical dynamics, but it is all contained
stage. Reznor is one of the last great tortured auteurs: writer,
musician and all-round creative nazi, and for that he must be respected.
"The studio role that Iíve been in for a long time, thatís the main
role, and thatís the one I really feel demands the most attention and the
one that is the most challenging and intriguing. When it comes time to
it live," he explains "itís almost like itís cheaper, in a way, itís more
immediate and instantly gratifying. It was a big challenge for us to try
interpret the new album live, because it was a lot more mood oriented. It
was a lot more moments of space. It was hard to imagine whether people
wanted to hear that or not. The band we used to be was a lot more
aggressive, in yer face kind of band. And the new material requires your
attention. It was hard to see how that might incorporate into a live
"I think thereís an emphasis in the show now of having the ability to try
do softer things, or more tense things, and I wouldnít have had the
to do that in the past. And now I feel like NIN is a new thing and it
about that. We could be kinda like The Cure sometimes, where thereís a
lengthy segment of the set thatís about mood and atmosphere and not
about nodding your head up and down."
The Downward Spiral tour, which came to Australia on the ill-fated
Alternative Nation shows in 1995, played many hick US towns several
times over, and by the time Reznor stepped off the tour bus, he was a big
deal rock star, toting a multi-platinum album, trading public insults
ex-lover Courtney Love, shepherding protegee Marilyn Manson through the
music industry (only for that relationship to sour dramatically) and woke
to realise he had fallen into the abyss he thought he was only playing
"The tour was a manifestation of the album and the concept behind that
record, which was self destruction," he says looking at me squarely with
his startlingly green eyes, "and I found myself very much living that
wrote a record which was very much a fairy tale, then I lived it. At the
that tour, which was way too long, I believed the hype. I turned into
person that Iíve read about in the media. Which surprised me. And I have
no desire to go back to that situation."
Some people leave their legacy to the world through a family, and others
strive to make a mark through the work they leave as a testament to their
mortal years. Reznor says he now understands the two are not necessarily
going to intersect.
"I realised in the process of making this record, I turned a corner of
where I realised Iíve stopped my life to do NIN and thatís not entirely
healthy to do that. Iíve given up a lot of things that matter to me to do
andÖ" he grows quiet, "Iíve realisedÖ some day Iíd like to have family
Iíd like to have friends and Iíd like to have what normal people have.
canít have that because Iíve given up everything to do this thing and my
brain works on a kind of one track mind. I like to wake up and devote
ounce of energy to being in the studio or working on a song, coming up
with a new idea - at the expense of normality, if that makes sense."
How long can you sustain it?
"Iíve done it for ten years now, and it hasnít really worked out well,"
grimaces. "I realise there is a balance that I aspire to achieve and not
completely one sided like I am now."
Can you have everything?
"I donít think I can," he admits emphasising the pronoun, "but again, I
aspire to find some sense of balance."
By Lauren Zoric
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.